So far, this year has been a time of debate and infighting amongst libertarians. Aside from the original disagreement within libertarianism, that of minarchism versus anarchism, we also now have newer divisions of thick versus thin, also known as brutalist versus postmodernist, and complete non-violence versus the limits of non-aggression. In a significant number of cases, supporters of one side or another within a division have accused each other of not truly being libertarians at all. In other words, accusations of fake libertarianism abound. In this piece, I will attempt to resolve the issue of precisely what constitutes fake libertarianism.

What is a fake libertarian?

In order to consider this question, we must first have proper definitions for “libertarian” and “fake.” Fortunately, this is not hard to do. Firstly, libertarianism is a philosophical position on what constitutes a proper use of force. It says that initiating the use of force is never justifiable and using force in a defensive manner is always justifiable, even if it is not always preferred. Secondly, we must consider what makes a fake adherent of any position a fake adherent. A fake adherent of a position is a person who claims to believe in that position while explicitly rejecting the premises of that position or their logical conclusions, or a person who adds to or subtracts from the premises of that position. Note that one may believe in additional premises beyond a certain position without being a fake adherent of that position, but to falsely represent such premises as being contained within that position does make one a fake adherent. Thus, a fake libertarian is a person who claims to be a libertarian but does one or more of the following:

  1. Supports initiating the use of force for any reason;
  2. Rejects a logical conclusion of the non-aggression principle;
  3. Claims that another principle can trump the non-aggression principle;
  4. Claims that libertarianism contains something that it does not contain, or vice versa.

When and where are there fake libertarians?

There are fake libertarians to be found in many places, within many organizations, and throughout the history of libertarian thought. But this much should be obvious, otherwise the subject would not attract the attention of my penmanship.

Who is a fake libertarian?

There are two ways of addressing this question. One approach is to call out individual people who espouse false versions of libertarianism. But the point of this piece is not to accuse (relatively) famous people of heresy and treat them to excommunication, but rather to provide rebuttal to falsehoods and inconsistencies, as these are truly the root of all evil. There is also a danger in naming a person as a fake libertarian who later becomes a true libertarian, as this would date a piece that would otherwise stand the test of time. As such, I will take the other approach of calling out certain ideologies within the libertarian “movement” and showing how they amount to fake libertarianism.

First, let us consider minarchism and anarchism. Libertarianism demands that no one initiate the use of force, regardless of who is initiating force, whom force is initiated against, why force is being initiated, or what the consequences of intiating force may be. As this is a universal principle, no exception may be made for agents of the state. This leaves the state with no means of operating, as all of its funding comes from taxation, currency debasement, and borrowing, and all of its laws are backed by the threat of force being used against those who disagree and act upon their disagreement. The collection of taxes, like all actions carried out by agents of the state, is done under the threat of kidnapping and caging for non-compliance, with the threat of murder should one resist being kidnapped and caged. This violates the non-aggression principle and is therefore forbidden under libertarianism. Currency debasement is merely taxation without legislation, a hidden tax that steals the wealth out of everyone’s money by devaluing it and giving it to government-favored bankers. Borrowing is simply taxation deferred to the unborn, who cannot possibly have a say in the matter. As invalid conclusions necessarily follow from false premises, the operation of a state is incompatible with libertarianism.

But surely not every advocate of limiting the size and scope of government is a fake libertarian. If this were true, then most people (those who were not always anarchists) would necessarily have to become fake libertarians before they could become true libertarians, an absurdity. It is for this reason that a distinction must be made between those who either have doubts about the practicality of anarchism (such as how certain services will be provided in the absence of government) or have never seriously considered anarchism and those who explicitly reject anarchism. There is nothing wrong with having curiosities about the operation of a stateless civilization, and there are many ideas for how these services may be provided which will need to be tested as and after the state is eliminated. There is, however, something wrong with letting such concerns lead one to rule out the possibility of anarchism. Ruling out the possibility of anarchism means accepting some degree of statism. As this involves rejecting a logical conclusion of the non-aggression principle, those who call themselves libertarians but explicitly reject anarchism are fake libertarians.

Second, let us consider thin libertarianism versus thick libertarianism, or as Jeffrey Tucker and an author with the pen name Bulbasaur have renamed it, libertarian brutalism versus libertarian postmodernism. Libertarian brutalism is the non-aggression principle, nothing more and nothing less. Libertarian postmodernism, on the other hand, suggests that libertarianism tells us more about what ideals we should have and how we should interact with other people beyond the restrictions of the non-aggression principle. While there are other positions on issues which logic demands that one take beyond the non-aggression principle, these are distinct and separate from libertarianism, as one can assert various individual preferences without initiatory force, and these may be incongruous from person to person. But there are those who try to blur the lines and say that libertarianism includes additional tenets and requires additional commitments on other issues, such as racism, sexism, environmentalism, wealth disparity, and so forth. These people claim that libertarianism contains something that it does not contain. As such, libertarian postmodernists are fake libertarians.

Third, let us consider pacifism versus a belief in the legitimacy of violence used in self-defense. Libertarians are free to choose not to exercise the right to use violence in self-defense. It may be a stupid thing to do, and it will likely cause them to wind up dead when matters take a turn for the worst, but one does not truly have a right if one is not free to choose not to exercise it. But a problem arises when pacifists insert total nonviolence into libertarianism as an additional tenet. These people claim that libertarianism contains something that it does not contain; namely, a prohibition on all uses of force, not just initiatory uses of force. Thus, libertarians who include pacifism inside their definitions of libertarianism are fake libertarians.

Why are there fake libertarians?

There are several motivational factors for fake libertarians. Let us examine the two most common ones.

There are some pundits who wish to espouse either conservative or progressive ideas, but find that their lack of talent prevents them from finding an audience among conservatives or progressives, as their relatively larger talent pool is already dominated by more persuasive propagandists. But in a smaller community with a relatively smaller talent pool, like the libertarian “movement,” they are capable of being the big fish in a small pond. And since we are talking about conservative and progressive pundits, twisting the truth is just part of the gig, so they find nothing wrong with taking on the libertarian mantle, adding a few buzzwords to their vocabularies, and using their talents to corrupt the message of liberty.

There is another motivation similar to the first, but it has a more nefarious purpose than dishonestly gained self-advancement. Some fake libertarians are leftist entryists who are attempting to take over and destroy libertarianism so that it can no longer pose a threat to statism in general and their political ideologies in particular. Lest this sound like a conspiracy theory, one must remember that it has happened at least twice before. “Liberal” used to mean civil liberties, limited government, private property rights, and laissez-faire, but leftists entered liberalism and changed that. “Conservative” used to mean tradition, limited government, anti-colonialism, and anti-federalism, but leftists entered conservatism and changed that. Now it is libertarianism’s turn, unless true libertarians successfully combat this effort.

In closing, there is something important to remember about why there are fake libertarians. Just as counterfeiters do not make copies of worthless banknotes and forgers do not falsify meaningless signatures, political charlatans do not pretend to hold a position if doing so has no potential benefit. Thus, true libertarians should take heart. The very fact that there are fake libertarians means that true libertarianism is worth something, and that defending it against those who would falsely assume it and attempt to destroy it is worth doing.

This article was originally published on on May 27, 2014.